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Integrated Service Delivery

Research in recent years has made it clear that citizens and businesses expect government to provide high quality service in a way that minimizes complexity and maximizes the users ability to get what they need in a timely manner. In response, public-sector organizations across Canada and around the world have adopted a number of strategies to improve both service access and service quality. For example, efforts to consolidate services in a single office, make services available through new channels such as the Internet, and coo-ordinate services with other levels of government have all been designed to make government service more citizen-centric.

The concept of coordinating service delivery across branch, departmental, and jurisdictional boundaries can be broadly defined as Integrated Service Delivery (ISD). Partnering across boundaries, however, brings new challenges without a proven set of strategies for managing those challenges.

This section of the ICCS web site offers some early lessons based on the collective experiences of some of Canada's leaders in Integrated Service Delivery.

Lesson #1: Putting the Structures in Place

While numerous partnerships have been struck over the years, they have tended to be more informal than formal, initiated by public servants with a vision and held together with "good will and bubble gum." One of the key lessons from these less formal experiments in partnering is that the scope of what can be accomplished is limited without some key formal structures in place. First and foremost, service delivery partnerships need to get the business model right. By taking the time to make sure the business model works up front, the partners are assured that they both understand not only the vision, but how they can realize the value behind that vision by working together. In addition to a business model that works, it is also important to establish a governance structure that meets everyone's needs. If the project is to survive in the long term, there needs to be a process for resolving conflicts, finalizing decisions, and ensuring accountability.

Lesson #2: Communications: Learning to Hear and Be Heard

The theme of communications is critical at several levels of the partnership and remains a key factor in avoiding and/or overcoming many of the challenges of building and maintaining partner relationships. Partners must be able to express their own interest when necessary while also actively listening and appreciating the motivation of the other partners. Strong communication lines are particularly important to build in the early days. Early communication establishes patterns, understanding, and relationships that will be critical to jointly overcoming problems down the road. In addition to the motives and strengths of each party, it is equally important to acknowledge and communicate the weaknesses and vulnerabilities as well. By doing so the partners will have a better sense for why it makes sense to work together, and how important it is that the relationship succeeds.

Lesson #3: Managing As Partners

The strength of the professional and personal relationship between project managers will ultimately dictate the progress of the project. The importance of these relationships is especially evident when the project involves staff from multiple organizations coming together. The organizational culture to which each staff member is accustomed may or may not be conducive to working effectively in the type of collaborative culture that is required for a partnership to flourish. The strength of the relationship will be tested when the early days of project planning give way to the longer days of implementation. Without a strong relationship based on mutual trust and respect, the project will lack the will and motivation to overcome these barriers. Also, the managers must be able to see the big picture while also moving the project skillfully through its everyday challenges. They must be able to negotiate conflicting needs, keeping the goals of the project in sight while being flexible in the means to achieving these goals.

Lesson #4: Leading with Vision

Project success is not possible without strong and engaged support at the most senior levels of each partner organization. Most projects involving partnerships also involve a significant amount of change within the respective organizations. Senior leaders need to accept their role as change agents if the partnership is to truly realize the value of working collaboratively. This support is especially critical as priorities change. Changing priorities is especially acute when multiple partners working from multiple political environments are involved. Senior champions must be able to maintain support in their own jurisdiction while simultaneously working with their counterparts to maintain a shared commitment to the project. Keeping a citizen-centred perspective is key to maintaining this support since it represents the underlying foundation that does not change regardless of shifting political priorities. Senior level support becomes even more important as the project evolves. Senior champions are able to clear barriers that the project managers otherwise could not resolve. Furthermore, senior leadership needs to be engaged enough to understand when the relationship needs to be reevaluated. Whether because of successes, failures, or changes in environment, partnerships often need to evolve.

Conclusion

As a summary, this set of lessons leaves unwritten many of the nuances and nuggets that those engaged in partnerships need to understand to succeed. Nevertheless, by capturing and chronicling some of the collective knowledge of Canada's public-sector leaders, these lessons represent a useful starting point for those looking to build successful partnerships. In fact, "starting point" is probably an appropriate term because if there is one lesson above all others it is that you cannot succeed until you start, so Just Do It.

Conference Presentations

On September 22, 2003, a full day learning event took place in Fredericton, New Brunswick, in conjunction with the bi-annual meeting of the Public Sector Service Delivery Council. The learning event was split between two topics: Interjurisidictional Projects, held by the National Research Council, and a Service New Brunswick update. The following are the materials from the event:

Presentations

Joint Federal-Provincial Project: Implementing a Common Business Number for New Brunswick and Canada (228 K)
Brian Nussey (SNB) and Cary O'Brien (CCRA)

Single Window Service Delivery (391 K)
Ron Smith (SNB) and Bill Todd (City of Saint John)

Delivery of Security and Emergency Services (1907 K)
Ernest MacGillivray, Department of Environment and Local Government

Overview of SNB (2,213 K)
Mike McKendy, Vice President, Operations
Service New Brunswick

SNB Electronic Services (807 K)
Bernie Arseneau, Director, Electronic Services Division
Service New Brunswick